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Neal Brown Monday: Boost of playing time yields to reality, tackling in focus

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Following Saturday’s 66-0 win over Long Island, West Virginia head coach Neal Brown mentioned the importance of getting playing time for so many members of his team.

“We got to play a lot of guys," Brown said. "Almost everybody within our program got a chance to go out there, which gets overlooked some. I think people sometimes wonder why we play these games. Well, 12 months a year, everybody in our program is working for one opportunity to get out there and play on Mountaineer Field. The walk-on program is really important to us, and in this game, a lot of our walk-ons got the opportunity to get in. We played a lot of people for the first time today. That’s a special opportunity.”

Perhaps just as importantly, getting on the field is a definite morale-builder for all involved. Veterans cheer for their younger backups and those deeper on the depth chart, and the experience of getting to play has to put a bounce in the step of many when they return to the normal grind of practice this week. The hope is that the boost helps everyone as they head back into preparations for games that won’t allow many more such opportunities, and it’s also a reality check.

“It’s important that they got some playing time,” Brown said on Monday. “Some of those guys further down the depth chart that aren’t playing much now, it gives them hope for future, and you want to have that. But it also gives video evidence for why some of them aren’t playing. Some guys may believe they should be playing, but when they see that video, it’s evidence of why they don’t perform.”

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Noting that his team has tackled “very average” through its first two games, Brown said that the lessening of full-contact practices and limits on hitting are not excuses for performing well in that area.

“I think you can still tackle at a high level," Brown said. "Is it more difficult now than it used to be? Yes. Is safety the chief concern? Again, the answer is yes. We do a tackling circuit every single day we are in pads. We do a lot of tackle and run after catch where we don’t tackle to the ground, but where we work on body position. With so much emphasis on not hitting up top, we still see a lot of missed tackles, and that’s all across the country, not just with us. The two biggest problems I see are guys with their heads down and guys leaving their feet.”

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To a man on Monday, Big 12 coaches expressed relief, along with upbeat outlooks, about adding BYU, Houston, Cincinnati and UCF to the league. Even though the schools won’t come in until July 2023 or later, having a stable membership with 12 schools instead of the previous 10 and retaining Power 5 status were mentioned by most every coach when asked about the impact of the additions.

Additionally, the not-inconsiderable effect on recruiting was also mentioned by more than one coach, as some question marks about the future of the league were already being used in a negative fashion in recruiting by other schools. Coaches can now point to the new membership and the increased depth in competition as stronger selling points while noting the Big 12 will not lose a great deal of status.

“I think it answers some questions, especially for the longevity of the league,” Brown contributed. “But I haven’t spent a lot of time on it so far. Our schedule this year and next year don’t change. It is something you have to answer in recruiting, but to me, winning is the biggest piece of recruiting. If you want to recruit well, you have to win.”